PRINCETON, N.J. -- The victories belonged to the Naval Academy, but the biggest smiles were all Columbia's.
True, Navy had finished first in all five races that made up the Maxwell Stevenson Cup heavyweight rowing regatta, which was contested on Princeton's Lake Carnegie Sunday. And give the Midshipmen credit -- ranked among the top five heavyweights in the east, they were impressive in every race.
But Columbia was just as impressive in many of the competitions, finishing no worse than four seconds back in three of the five races.
"We put the wheels back on," heavyweight head coach Mike Zimmer said. "We had better rhythm, we showed more intensity. We did a good job."
After three disappointing competitions in a row, Columbia demonstrated its rediscovered expertise in the varsity eights race for the Maxwell Stevenson Cup. Although the Middies were quick off the starting line, Columbia was able to match their speed once they reached their base.           
Navy led by a length after 700 or 800 meters, but Columbia was catching up. "We made a little move at the 1000," Zimmer recalled, "and cut into their lead, but we couldn't capitalize on it. Navy went back up to about a length lead."
The Lions were far from finished, though. In the final 300 meters, they poured it on, but still could not overtake the Middies. Despite heavy pressure from the pursuing Columbia eight, "Navy did a good job," Zimmer said, "not letting us back in the final 300."
The Midshipmen crossed the finish line in 6:06.9, just 3.2 seconds better than Columbia's 6:10.1.
Zimmer smiled. Thinking back over the Lions' recent races, he noted that, "We were much better down the course. We had not been doing that.
"This was a better representation of what we can do."
Columbia's freshman eight also faced a tough opponent in the highly-ranked Navy frosh boat. They got a fast view of what they were up against, almost in the first few strokes.
"Navy got off to a huge lead," Zimmer said. "The race was really over after 200 or 250 meters. Our freshmen battled back; in fact, they rowed really well for much of the race, but we were [out of contention]. The Lions closed to within five seconds by race's end, 6:09.3 to 6:14.4.
 The varsity fours was another nail-biter, as all three entrants were within 1.5 seconds of each other. Navy's A four won the race in 7:05.7 to Navy B's 7:07.2 and Columbia's 7:07.5.
Both the four and the eight had to adjust to altered lineups, as Zimmer and his staff moved several people around in an effort to gain speed and rhythm. The stroke oars were changed in both boats, and Ian Winthrop moved from the four to the fourth seat in the varsity eight.
Winthrop, Columbia's only senior rower, had rowed in the four all season, unable to crack the eight's lineup. "I made the decision to put Ian in the eight," Zimmer said. "I thought it was a really positive move. [Today] was a testament to Ian's experience in close races."   
Columbia's heavyweights were joined on the lake by the Lion lightweights, who rowed against Navy's second varsity and second freshman heavyweight eights.
Zimmer and Navy head coach Rick Clothier invited lightweight coach Scott Alwin to row in the regatta, normally limited to heavyweight crews.
"I'm grateful to Mike and Rick Clothier," Alwin said. "We have a three-week break between our last regular-season race (last Sunday) and the Eastern Sprints May 13. It was nice to race against outside competition [to break that up]."
The invitation was delivered just five days earlier, on Wednesday, and caught Alwin and his team unawares. "We had little preparation," he noted. "We could not prepare like we usually would for a race. We had only three days in the water."
The arrangement was hardly new to Alwin. As a heavyweight rower at the University of Wisconsin, he vividly recalls traveling with the Badgers to four-day training sessions at Navy between the Sprints and IRA. In fact, Alwin remembered his second varsity heavyweights rowing against Navy's first varsity lightweights.
Columbia's varsity eight rowed well against the larger and heavier Midshipmen. Although Navy got off to a solid lead, Columbia stayed with them in the second 500, and was down by just one length at the 1000. In the second half, Navy tried to pull away, but was unable to shake the Lions, who were able to push into their lead frequently.
Navy won the race in 6:17.9, 2.8 seconds ahead of Columbia's 6:20.7.
The Middies' second freshman heavies didn't have that much trouble with the Lions' first freshman lightweights, pulling away in the second half for a 16-second final margin.
"We got off to a good start," freshman coach Nich Parker said. "We led through the first 250. We made some improvements to our first half, but we still have to improve our back half."
With the Stevenson Cup marking the conclusion of Columbia's regular season, the Lion heavyweights and lightweights now await the Eastern Sprints Sunday, May 13 on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass.
The results of the Maxwell Stevenson Cup regatta:

The Maxwell Stevenson Cup
Columbia vs. Navy
April 29, 2012
Lake Carnegie, Princeton, N.J.

Varsity Eights - Heavyweights

1. Navy, 6:06.9
2. Columbia, 6:10.1

Varsity Eights - Columbia varsity lightweights vs. Navy second varsity heavyweights (unofficial race)
1. Navy, 6:17.9
2. Columbia, 6:20.7

Freshman Eights - Heavyweights
1. Navy, 6:09.3
2. Columbia, 6:14.4

Freshman Eights - Columbia freshman lightweights vs. Navy second freshman heavyweights (unofficial race)
1. Navy, 6:23.3
2. Columbia, 6:39.4

Varsity Fours - Heavyweights
1. Navy A, 7:05.7
2. Navy B, 7:07.2
3. Columbia, 7:07.5

Today's Heavyweight Boatings:

Varsity Eight
Janelle Geddes, cox; Mike Donohue, stroke; Sam Collins, 7; Clemens Auersperg, 6;  Ben Coombs, 5; Ian Winthrop, 4; John Clapp, 3; Connor Jones, 2; Charles Wu, bow

Freshman Eight

Alex Xu, cox; Sam Harris, stroke; Matt Ridgeway, 7; Buck Goggin, 6; James Glynn, 5; D.J. Dlesk, 4; Rob Cornacchia, 3; Connor Murphy, 2; Max Lindemann, bow

Varsity Four
Andrew Lake, cox; Noah Whitehead, stroke; Daniel Kolbe, 3; Ryan Jones, 2; Elliot Meade, bow

Today's Lightweight Boatings:

Varsity Eight
Stone Cao, cox; Daniel Kirrane, stroke; Bruno Salemme, 7; John O'Mara, 6; James Kahmann, 5; Blake Pinell, 4; Curtis Kachline, 3; Roger Stone, 2; James Winford, bow

Freshman Eight

Logan Pirkl, cox; Griffin Whitlock, stroke; Ben Blair, 7; Fredrik Aasaaren, 6; Matt Bellesheim, 5; Travis Simon, 4; Charlie Stigler, 3; Max Segall, 2; Thabet Mahayni,  bow